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Re-signing Logan Morrison: Rays' big offseason gamble

Logan Morrison had a horrific start for the Rays last season, going 29 games (six weeks) before driving in his first run.
Logan Morrison had a horrific start for the Rays last season, going 29 games (six weeks) before driving in his first run.
Published Feb. 23, 2017

PORT CHARLOTTE — Some of the decisions the Rays made during a busy offseason definitely can be debated, headlined by why they traded Logan Forsythe and added to most recently by why they didn't spend more to sign free agent Matt Wieters.

Another fair question is that given the hefty number of other intriguing first-base options available, why — or depending on your level of skepticism, why in the world! — did they re-sign Logan Morrison?

It wasn't like Morrison was a big hit in 2016, when he went six weeks and 29 games before driving in his first run, got hurt twice and ended the season having wrist surgery after posting rather pedestrian overall numbers: .238 average, 14 homers, 43 RBIs, .733 OPS, 0.4 WAR (wins above replacement).

But the Rays mostly waited as Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Indians, Mike Napoli the Rangers, Matt Holliday and Chris Carter the Yankees, Mitch Moreland the Red Sox, Brandon Moss the Royals, Steve Pearce the Blue Jays, Eric Thames the Brewers, and so on. They watched as Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Howard and (until last week) Adam Lind went unclaimed and slashed their prices.

And then they decided — or, more accurately, stuck with the choice they had been leaning toward since the end of last season — that the best option was Morrison.

What?

Why?

They had several reasons, such as the relatively low $2.5 million salary he commanded ("Price point,'' Morrison quipped) and his high impact in the clubhouse, from his brassy behavior to the example he set in handling his struggles.

But no reason was bigger than an organizational belief — maybe bordering on stubbornness — that Morrison is a much better player than he showed last year after being acquired from Seattle.

Or, specifically, that he is much more like the player he was for half a season — between the horrid start and premature finish — when for 77 games he hit an impressive .280 with 14 homers, 43 RBIs and an .863 OPS.

"His season was a little bit of a tale of two seasons,'' manager Kevin Cash said, "and we're betting on the high.''

Though team officials made something of a wink-wink arrangement with Morrison at the end of last season, there was considerable speculation and anticipation among fans —and even Rays players — about whether the team would seek an upgrade at first.

"Obviously, I'd love to see that we'd be able to go out and get Encarnacion or Napoli, but price range and fit play a big factor always,'' team leader Evan Longoria said. "I think of all of them, 'LoMo' was the best fit for us.''

In addition to how Morrison plays, Longoria puts a high value on what Morrison does off the field, comparing him in ways to former Rays outfielder/enforcer Jonny Gomes.

"LoMo was great for the clubhouse. He was great on the bus and the plane,'' Longoria said. "He's pretty brash, and he's loud, but he's also likeable, and he's a veteran guy. … He's an agitator when he needs to be, but he's also an inspirer. He's got ways of getting guys to believe, and you always need at least one guy like that.''

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Morrison, 29, appreciates the confidence the Rays are showing in him and shrugs off the external criticism — "I don't really care what anyone thinks outside of this locker room'' — knowing the surprising second chance is his to squander or salvage.

Assuming Brad Miller can handle the move to second base to replace Forsythe, Morrison, as the lefty-swinging half of what is lining up as a platoon with Rickie Weeks, looks to be the primary first baseman.

"If I go out there and rake, they're all going to say that's why they brought me back,'' Morrison said. "So that's the plan, to make the Rays look smart.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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